I’ve done my fair share of work.
First in the accounting department of an airline. Then at an investment bank. Finally, I spent 14 years at Microsoft Corporation.
Over those years I’ve learned a lot about the impact of work on quality of life. I’ve seen what helps me get ahead and what holds me back.
I’ve learned what to do. I’ve learned what not to do!
If someone asked me what I wish I knew when I first started working, this is what I would say:
- 1) Be an outstanding communicator
- 2) Don’t let perfect get in the way of great
- 3) Get strong
- 4) Learn how to set boundaries
- 5) Become an early riser
- 6) Become financially literate
- 7) Save as much money as possible early in your career
- 8) Spend freely on things you love
- 9) Use all your vacation
- 10) Become good at things outside of work
- 11) Do what makes you happy
1) Be an outstanding communicator
Lots of people are smart. If you made it to a career at a reputable company, chances are you are smart too. Your ability to communicate and present ideas is the biggest deciding factor in your career success. The top people in a company are rarely the smartest. They are the smartest that also know how to present themselves well.
Learn how to communicate – through writing and presenting. Learn how to present complex ideas and arguments. Don’t fear negative feedback. Keep refining the skill.
2) Don’t let perfect get in the way of great
Geoffrey Moore has a phrase, “Go ugly. Early.”, for innovators trying to produce products that can make the jump across the chasm. In the technology industry an MVP or Minimum Viable Product is a common thing. An MVP is a way to get a product out the door, gather feedback, and perfect it over time.
Whatever you are doing, strive to be great, but the first step is just getting out there and making something happen. Learn from the experience.
3) Get strong
I mean as strong as you can, pound for pound. Get in the weight room. Do some dead-lifts. Swing a kettlebell and build some strength (kettlebells have a “What the Hell?” effect). Confused as to why I would include this in a list of work-related advice?
All the hours sitting at work will take its toll on your body. Exercise is the antidote. The added muscle will be a major confidence booster at work. The hormonal response of hard workouts will also help you cope with work related stress.
Lifting heavy weights will force you to learn good form and posture (or you will get injured). This will help you stave off repetitive stress injury. Strength workouts are also proven to provide major cardiovascular benefits. Hire a trainer to teach you the basics of Olympic and Power Lifting technique.
Commit to getting strong.
4) Learn how to set boundaries
There is an infinite amount of work. Learn to stop tasks partially complete so you can leave work on time. Don’t check your email after hours or on weekends. Avoid multi-tasking. Work hard when you need to and cultivate the discernment to know when to shut work off.
Build this habit early in your career and it can help you get more done in less time, save your relationships and keep you sane.
5) Become an early riser
Ben Franklin wasn’t joking when he said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. I don’t care if you aren’t a morning person. You can learn any habit, including the habit of being an early riser. Strive to join the 5 AM Club, or at least the 6:30AM Club 🙂 . You will be more productive and able to work in peace without the demands of the world creeping in.
6) Become financially literate
There is a game played around you, and it’s a money game. You need to master the game of money early in your career. It can mean the difference between retiring with financial freedom and just scraping by in your golden years.
Learn the law of compounding returns. Learn the benefits of low-cost passive index investing. Learn how to live simple and invest as much money as possible early in your career. Learn tax law and the tax related benefits of starting your own business even if you have a day job. In 10-20 years, if done right, you will find yourself in a position of being able to retire early (in your 30s or 40s) if you want to.
If you are in debt, that is a whole different ball of wax. Follow Dave’s advice to shoot your debt snowball in the head and get back control of your life.
7) Save as much money as possible early in your career
Finances are so important to quality of life, I had to include a second financial oriented item in this list.
Read the book Your Money or Your Life and commit to save an extraordinary amount of your income. This means saving at least 20% and perhaps up to 50% of your take home pay. The reason to saving a high percentage of your income is the freedom it affords later in life. You can retire early (in your 40s at the latest) even on a modest salary. You just need to save a ton and live a simple life. This doesn’t mean you need to be boring, read the next item for more on that!
8) Spend freely on things you love
Decide on what makes you happy and spend freely on those things. Science has proven that spending money on experiences is better than spending money on things. Therefore, try to splurge on experiences. Avoid spending money on things (e.g. expensive shoes, jewelry, etc.).
However, if you really love certain things (e.g. you can’t pull yourself away from those fancy shoes)….spend away on them. Just be sure to ruthlessly save money on everything else.
I have always been frugal. Even as my income grew to well into the six figures during my time at Microsoft, I spent far less than I earned. I also splurge on things I care about. I splurge when it comes to foreign travel (I’ve been to over 25 countries). I also splurge when it comes to improving myself through personal development training. For example, I’ve spent over $15,000 on Tony Robbins seminars! They have been worth every penny.
I’ve also spent thousands on Yoga training. Also worth every penny!
Decide what makes you happy and go for it! Cut spending in all other areas and invest the difference.
I think Ramit would agree with me on this point.
9) Use all your vacation
My old co-workers used to never use all their vacation. Crazy right? It seemed like a badge of courage. Working hard and not taking a break. I was guilty of the same behavior.
Turns out we were all wrong.
Taking vacation is important. People who take breaks end up doing better work. It also demonstrates you are confident enough in your abilities not to have to prove anything by just being in the office all the time. If you use your vacation to gather new experiences, that is best. You will come back to work with fresh perspectives.
10) Become good at things outside of work
Don’t let work define who you are. Find a hobby, and spend enough time at it to get good enough to teach it to someone else. You should be good enough at your hobby for someone else to pay you for it!
I loved to practice yoga and would often go to a yoga studio 5-6 days a week while I working. One day, I decided to take the leap and become a teacher. Doing this required significant investment in time and money to complete the training. I ended up teaching over 500 classes over 5 years. It was a wonderful experience and gave me a strong identity outside of my day job. I found new groups of friends. I discovered new ways to spend my free time (e.g. attending yoga conferences) and even met my future wife through my yoga studio.
My hobby also made a better – happier and healthier – worker.
Find a hobby and cultivate it. You will become a more interesting person, and better at your career.
11) Do what makes you happy
Isn’t the meaning of life to be happy? I think so.
Regardless what you end up doing as a job, just do what makes you happy. Remember that what makes you happy one year may not make you happy the next. It is your right to change you mind, and change your career. Your family and friends may not understand your decisions, but that is OK.
I started out as a financial analyst. Later I moved on to become a product planning manager working with engineering teams. Then I became a director of business planning. Then I was a vagabond, traveling the world with my wife and two dogs. Now I am building a career as a self-employed life and business coach.
This evolution has taken me 15 years.
Whatever you do, do what makes you happy.